Tuesday, February 2, 2010

From Hope to Hype

I still don't get the iPad. Not the technology itself: it's just a bigger iPod Touch (and neat at that). No, it was the recent hype about the iPad that I didn't get. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Apple (I'm writing this on an iMac) - but not a 'fanatical' fan. I'm using Firefox as my browser (Safari is too restrictive), and I'm using Google's blogger to write this post. I suspect most people in the Apple camp like myself have a foot (or at least a toe or two) in a few other camps as well.

Undoubtedly the iPad will find a niche or two to exploit (Tyler Cowen thinks it'll finally make the eBook happen in our schools - which I for one would welcome). It might even bring about the paperless office: not by replacing paper but by accelerating the decline of the office as a place to work.

But the interesting thing is not the gushing praise that has greeted the iPad, rather it is the sense of ennui and disillusion that it seems to have provoked in some. Tim Leberecht goes so far as to link the disappointment in the iPad to the disappointment in Obama. He quotes one reviewer:
... the iPad is a lot like Barack Obama: Everyone was able to project their own fantasies and aspirations on a product with which they were mostly unfamiliar, only to sour on it once they realized that it did not live up to their impossible expectations. Only with the iPad it took about seven minutes for the disappointment to set in.
But he goes further: along with losing faith first in Western Civilisation and then in God, it now appears we are losing faith in technology:
Yes, the digital joyride has come to an end. The faith in smart technology, collective knowledge, and data-driven human reasoning has suffered severe blows of late. Neither did social technology unleash the revolutionary potential of the Iranian people after the election, nor did sophisticated financial instruments prevent the financial crisis or the Copenhagen Summit yield a meaningful solution for combating the climate crisis. Wikipedia has not made us wiser; conflicts remain unresolved; ignorance prevails – in spite of the social capital accumulated on social networks, time and place-shifting transnational hyper-connectivity, and design thinking.
An 'Age of Grand Disillusion' is upon us. But I think he goes too far: technology - even delightful, smooth, glossy, Apple touch technology - is just a tool. And we are still only learning to work with the tools Apple and others have given us in recent years. So it's too early to tell.

But I think disillusion is going too far: we have been caught up in our own hype cycle, always expecting the next new thing to be a revolutionary leap forward when instead it is a more modest evolutionary step. But enough evolutionary steps can add up to something quite revolutionary - like the emergence of the Noosphere that Teilhard de Chardin and others dreamt off. There are no certainties about the future - things could go well or badly as ably explored in the answers to the latest Edge question: 'how has the internet changed the way you think?'

But it's too soon to give up hope just yet.

1 comment:

  1. My friend and I were recently talking about how we as human beings are so hooked onto electronics. Reading this post makes me think back to that debate we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

    I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as technology further innovates, the possibility of downloading our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I dream about every once in a while.

    (Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=http://quizilla.teennick.com/stories/16129580/does-the-r4-or-r4i-work-with-the-new-ds]R4i[/url] DS NetPost)


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